Friday, January 28, 2011

Writing Heroes - are you stuck forever with the same ones?

There are books written that I salivate over, not necessarily for their storyline although that has to please as well, but for their wordmanship.  My favourite first paragraph of a book ever is from Vladivar Nabokov's Lolita:

LOLITA, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue making a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo.Lee.Ta.

I like this because it makes you do it too, it makes you say 'Lo. Lee. Ta.'  Even to the point of putting the book down to do it.  Seriously powerful.  One small paragraph in and I am hooked.

Other authors have had the quite amazing ability to change the way I daydream.  Two such writers spring to mind when I think of this, travelling to work on two buses each way used to afford me a lot of reading and daydreaming time, and the two would often mingle.  From as opposite ends of the spectrum as literature could spring upon me: D H Lawrence (good Nottingham lad) and Irvine Welsh would both have me daydreaming in the style and dialect of whatever novel of theirs I was reading.  From the heaving-bosomed Georgian (?) middle classes that Lawrence wrote of to the beer swilling, heroin chasing Leith anti-heroes that Welsh so brilliantly characterised.

I have read many, many books, most I have completely forgotten.  Those chic-lits where the clumsy, but inwardly brilliant heroine gets the chaps of her dreams whilst nimbly climbing the greasy pole of the fashion magazine that she works for, the what I call 'airport novel' in that you only buy them at the airport or only read them on holiday because you've read all your books and are now reading your travelling companion's. Thrillers and chillers with much the same plot and usually an ending you can see a mile off.  Forgettable.

Only a few remain.  Only a small percentage of books really impress me that much that they become ingrained in my brain.  Iain Banks' The Wasp Factory will always be one of those books.  So different, so bizarre, so twisted and the ending so far from what I was expecting.  I think between us we own all of Banks' work with many duplicates, but The Wasp Factory is the one I would return to again and again.  Oddly enough The Wasp Factory is the only Iain Banks book we no longer have, both mine and t'husband's copies stolen by our respective friends. I kind of don't mind (I do actually but I pretend not to) because it's that kind of book, it says a lot about a book if someone won't return it or takes it without your permission.  That's a strong book.

Then there are the books from your youth.  Are You There God It's Me Margaret? (Judy Blume), oh Judy did you realise, could you actually imagine that your heavily Americanised book would be such a passage of rights for a 13 year old girl from Middle England?  Before that, in more innocent times before hormones dictated my reading material.  Flat Stanley (Jeff Brown)a book I bought when I discovered I was carrying a boy.  A book that we still haven't read because I don't think at 4½ he's quite ready for it, but I loved it so much I needed to buy it for him.

Books that you had to read, but brilliant books that shaped your political awareness and persuasion at a tender age.  To Kill A Mocking Bird (Harper Lee) was a syllabus must read for GSCE English Literature students, to the man or woman who selected that book; I salute you!  For Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck), I remember getting my first A paper, (I was not an A grade student - too much time spent smoking and fooling about), I remember how astounded I was, writing about the book was so easy, it felt so natural but to get an A?

Books have and will continue to carve a path through my life.  My husband is a reader, my best friends all read.  I can't get along with a person who says they don't read.  Why don't you read?  What glorious things you've missed out on.  Sometimes you'll hear a person say "oh I've never read a book" and they say it with pride, I have to walk away, I want to slap them.  Read a book, get lost in the words.  Books let your imagination set the scene in a way that a movie robs you of.   Books take you to worlds that you've never dreamt of.

But... oh how there is always a but!  I have a theory about books.  Much like music we are heavily influenced by the written word whilst young—late teens to early twenties. The style, subject, authors etc., we decide so young what we really like, but here's the thing... have you read a book that moved you as much as one of your favourites that you read when you were young?  I've read some fantastic literary classics to be, great books, recommend to friends books, worthy contenders for the top 100 books you should read lists, but (it's there again) they can't hold a candle to books that shaped me.  Much like no album will topple The Stone Roses from it's all time ever No. 1 in my life album, will any book I ever read upend The Wasp Factory, will an author manage to slide in at number 5 and displace To Kill A Mocking Bird?  I'm not sure they will.

Who are your writing heroes and are they recent finds?